Tamim must unclutter his mind
It is now common knowledge that Bangladesh's success as a team is closely linked to the fortunes of its batsmen. If a couple of them are among the runs, they win games and have a certain swagger; when the well is dry, the whole team is off its game. Hardly a coincidence, then, that Bangladesh's struggles against Pakistan come at a time when their best player, Tamim Iqbal, is going through a drought.
Tamim's failure means the No. 3 is in too quickly and the middle-order takes too much time to settle down. The last 50-plus opening stand was in Zimbabwe in August - 14 innings ago. The best against Pakistan so far has been a meagre eight, by four different pair of openers rotated between Tamim, the woefully out-of-form Imrul Kayes, Shahriar Nafees and Naeem Islam.
Tamim's batting of late has belied his experience and his record against the best attacks. In his innings of 0, 4 and 0 against the Pakistan opening attack of Mohammad Hafeez and Umar Gul, Tamim has been caught on the crease, feet hardly moving or going down the wrong angle. When Gul offered him a freebie miles outside off-stump in the second ODI, Tamim under-edged the ball into a baffled second slip's lap.
Faruque Ahmed, the former chief selector and the man who pushed Tamim from age-group cricket into the national setup, is convinced that there is hardly any let-up in intensity but concedes the need for a quiet word.
"I follow what he does and he still works hard on his batting skills, be it from the [bowling] machine, the nets or just hitting balls," he said. "There's Habibul Bashar in the selection panel along with two very experienced former captains, Akram Khan and Minhajul Abedin. Habibul has dealt with Tamim as a captain so I think a talk between the two could sort things out."
"I just think someone within the team management should have a talk with him soon, before his problems slip deeper," Faruque said. "Sometimes the best cannot come from a player if he's not satisfied with what's [going on] around him. Plus he's not a 30-year-old guy. He's just 22, so one has to manage him."
Tamim's batting mentor, Mohammad Salahuddin, suggests that a changed game plan has added to the pressure around the batsman.
"He had this attitude going for him; he was aggressive and tried to dominate bowlers from the start, but he has changed this," Salahuddin, who is the former Bangladesh fielding coach, said. "He now wants to take his time, stay in for longer periods. I think he shouldn't have made this change.
"Not everyone is Shakib [Al Hasan]. Whatever happens, Shakib doesn't let it bother him on the field. There's a lot of pressure on these guys, and it sometimes boils over and the media has a role here too."
Zimbabwe is where trouble began for Tamim. After a World Cup campaign that had its share of controversies circling Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim opened his mouth at the wrong time in Zimbabwe. It didn't help when he continuously got out to Brian Vitori, the bowler he called "ordinary" or allegedly argued with the coach. Upon return, the vice-captaincy was taken away and it was always a matter of concern how he would react.
"He [Tamim] said something in Zimbabwe [about the hosts' bowlers] and it was dragged on for a long time," Salahuddin said. "Some people have to help him and it should come from the team management. How the coach deals with him, that's also worth seeing."
Following that tour, he batted reasonably against West Indies but in the second innings of the second Test, with the game on the line on the final day, Tamim played a horrible shot in the 80s. The shot led to ridicule, upsetting Tamim no end. After picking up a knee injury during a camp in Chittagong last month, the left-hand batsman didn't play the Twenty20 against Pakistan. The lack of information from the team's medical staff led to rumours, which were compounded by the board president checking out the injured knee during the introductions at the start of the game.
It was done in jest, but it touched a nerve and many questioned whether Tamim - a man who had batted with a busted wrist for close to six months in 2010 - was fully committed. While Salahuddin mentions pressure, it is also true that Tamim had to change his approach because he was beginning to be found out by bowling attacks, just like he was stopped from charging fast bowlers after his attack on India at the Queen's Park Oval in 2007.
Zimbabwe certainly tested his patience with the short ball close to his body, when the odd word didn't work. West Indies did the same, and as he batted against Hafeez and Gul with shattered confidence, he became a cheap wicket, something Bangladesh can't deal with at the moment.
Faruque, who is also a former national captain, is an important voice in Bangladesh cricket especially due to his track record as a selector. It appears that he doesn't want Tamim to be yet another cautionary tale for the next generation, rather than become the country's first great batsman.
Bangladesh's short history is filled with batsmen who have impressed at the beginning but faded away as the pressure rose and the expectations swelled. Come Friday, Tamim will take the field with the man who typifies "wasted talent", Mohammad Ashraful.
"I would tell Tamim that you don't become great by just a season or two of good form," Faruque said. "'Flash in the pan' cricketers are all over Bangladesh. He has to understand that to be remembered, he has to play well for a long, long time."
Tamim is no stranger to a run of poor form. It took him meticulous preparation for almost two years to become the batsman he is today. There was one period after that India game that Tamim went 11 innings without a half-century in international cricket.
If he can get out of that rut, this is theoretically easier. The recipe is not just a lot of hard work to prove a point, but an uncluttered mind that reignites his hunger for runs. It would augur well for the team too.
Mohammad Isam is senior sports reporter at the Daily Star in Dhaka